The game didn’t mean anything as far as playoff seeding, but it could have been a great springboard for the Atlanta Falcons heading into the playoffs. Instead, the Falcons came out looking uninspired against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and lost their third divisional game of the season, 22-17.
Coming out of the season’s final game looking as flat as they did isn’t exactly what head coach Mike Smith wanted. The Buccaneers weren’t going to lay down easily, and everyone knew that. Yet the Falcons couldn’t capitalize on a Tampa pass defense that had been picked apart all season.
It’s not like the Falcons played a particularly bad game, but they didn’t play like a team that was sitting atop the NFL and getting ready to prove all doubters wrong about their chances of making a deep run in the playoffs…or even winning a single game in the playoffs.
The other perplexity of the game was the fact that all of the Atlanta starters played through the entire game. Even when the game seemed at least a little bit out of reach for a while, Matt Ryan, John Abraham and all the other starters were still on the field. You might have to question the logic of having crucial members of the team playing late into a losing effort in what was basically a meaningless game.
So here’s the glass half-empty/glass half-full of the season.
The Falcons finished 13-3 (matching the second best record in franchise history) and are the No.1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They get a week off, and get to host the lowest remaining seed after next week’s wild card games. But…
All three of the Falcons losses came against divisional opponents, in what is widely considered one of the weaker divisions in the league this season. All three teams Atlanta lost to–the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers–figured the best formula for diffusing Atlanta’s high-powered passing attack is to just punch holes in the offensive line and keep Matt Ryan from setting his feet and going through his progressions.
All three did it exceptionally well, and may have provided a nice road map for Atlanta’s playoff opponents.
But the news isn’t all gloom and doom coming off the disappointing performance. Here’s the biggest thumbs up that can come out of this loss.
Since taking over as head coach in 2008, Mike Smith and his Falcons are 15-3 following a loss, and have never lost a home game following a loss.
And, outside of the Super Bowl, all the Falcons have left are home games.